benedict-cumberbenedict-the-imitation-game-movie-posterIs The Imitation Game a movie? The answer might surprise you.

There I was, skimming through the comments last week, when I spotted one that caught my cornea. The comment was from a writer who had asked his director friend what he thought of the Black List. There were some good scripts on there, the director friend conceded, but not a lot of MOVIES.

Not a lot of “movies?” What was that supposed to mean? Aren’t all scripts written to be movies? What was this strange director friend of a friend of a commenter talking about?

What he was talking about is that not every good script makes a good movie. That’s because good movies aren’t only about stories. Movies are about imagery and ideas and action and adventure and sound. There was a time long ago when people went to the movies because they could take them places they’d never be able to visit otherwise.

It’s a lot easier to see the world these days with the internet and a thousand outbound flights to Europe every day. But the spirit of this statement is still true. A movie has to give people something they can’t have in real life, something outside of the norm.

Look at the Star Wars trailer, which, no, I have not watched 117 and a third times since Friday. Who gave you that information? There’s a sense of “action” in each of the shots presented. The characters need to get somewhere. We’re on other planets seeing things we’ve never seen before. We can’t get this kind of action or these kinds of worlds anywhere else but in the movie theater.

On the flip side, you have films like Garden State and The Skeleton Twins. These aren’t movies. They’re glorified 90 minute TV shows – talking heads going through issues. With the line between TV and film blurring more every day, it’s become even harder to justify these “movies.” They’re not giving us anything we can’t see on our television sets.

I’ll never forget what an agent told me when I first got here, which is that people are going to pay MILLIONS OF DOLLARS to produce your screenplay. So what are you going to show the world that’s worthy of those millions? If it’s just two people chatting about how life is difficult, your financers are going to wonder why you need 2 million bucks. Why not just shoot it on a Best Buy camera for nothing?

Let’s get more specific. What is it that makes a script a “movie script” and not simply a “good screenplay?” Here are seven things that will help you determine just that. Your script doesn’t have to hit all of these points. But it should hit most of them.

1) A large scope – Movies are supposed to feel larger than life. So the scope should feel bigger than normal.

2) The script falls within one of these movie-friendly genres: horror, sci-fi, action, adventure, thriller, period.

3) The script doesn’t fall within one of these non-movie-friendly genres: Straight drama, coming-of-age, political, romance (unless you’re Nicholas Sparks), and satire.

4) Your script is something we can’t get anywhere else but in the movies (dinosaur parks, for example).

5) Can you easily imagine the trailer?

6) Is the script something a director would be eager to direct? (I bet there wasn’t a line of directors out the door wanting to helm “Obvious Child.”)

7) There’s a lot more action (and by action I mean characters doing things, not just stunt action) than there is talking.

With this newfound knowledge, let’s look at five Black List loglines and determine if they’re “movie” ideas or just well-written screenplays. I want to make something clear. I am in no way passing judgment on the scripts themselves. In fact, I haven’t even read any of them. We’re just trying to determine the script’s viability as a movie.

Hot Summer Nights
Logline: A teenager’s life spirals out of control when he befriends the town’s rebel, falls in love, and gets entangled in selling drugs over one summer in Cape Cod.

It sounds like the main character is quite active in this, which is good. The drug trouble stuff implies some moving around (movement is good – it’s not called a “move” “ie” for nothing). But the scope here feels too small. I don’t see any directors getting excited over this. They made the similar “Toy’s House,” last year, a script that I liked. And the film was pretty good too. But nobody saw it because it was, you guessed it, not really a movie. If you turned this into a straight comedy, a la Superbad, that’s a different story. Mainstream comedies are always movies. But this doesn’t sound like that.

I’m Proud of You
Logline: A journalist looking for a story about television’s role in the Columbine tragedy interviews TV’s Mr Rogers and, as a friendship develops between the two, he finds himself confronting his own issues at home.

I mean put yourself in a director’s shoes. Is there anything at all in this logline that would make you want to direct this film? Any powerful imagery? Any action? Anything unique to do on the filmmaking end? My guess is no. This sounds like a very slow-moving sad character piece, which are anti-movies.

The Line
A corrupt border crossing agent must decide what is more important — saving his soul or inflating his bank account — when he discovers a young illegal boy who escaped a cartel hit on the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

I’m seeing the word “slow” in my head every time I read this logline. “Slow” and “movie” don’t go together. Movies must have a sense of urgency, of people needing to do things. Here, it sounds like a lot of sitting around, a lot of characters discussing their pasts, their feelings, their shitty situations. Since “slow” is usually synonymous with “boring,” this doesn’t feel like a movie to me.

Logline: After his girlfriend dies in a car accident, a man finds his true soul mate, only to wake from a coma to learn his perfect life was just a dream — one he is determined to make real.

My first thoughts are that this isn’t a movie. Seems more like indie actor bait. With that said, the premise is cleverer than the others, and it leaves the viewer with a compelling question (Does he find his soul mate?) that may entice them to see the film. But getting people to the theater doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve created a movie. If the shots are still static. If the style is still basic. If there’s not a lot of movement or urgency, then fancy premise or not, you still don’t have a movie.

Diablo Run
Logline: While on a road trip to Mexico, two best friends are forced to enter a thousand-mile death race with no rules.

Boom! Finally, we have a movie! Look at the elements involved.  A dangerous country.  Good!  “Forced.”  That means characters must do things against their will (conflict!). “Race.” That means cars and lots of action. “Death.” That means the stakes will be high, with competitors wanting to kill one another. Go ahead, imagine the trailer. It’s way clearer than any of the above ideas, right? That’s a good sign that you’ve written a movie.

john_boyega_official_star_wars_verge_super_wideThe Force Awakens: Definitely a movie!

Now this isn’t always a clear cut thing. Some scripts are stuck between these two extremes. We don’t know if they’re movies until we see them on the big screen. After the studios grab all the best material (the material that results in the best movies), this “unclear” material is out there for the pickins and second-tier producers have to gamble on each horse, hoping they’re a movie.

The Imitation Game script is a perfect example. It was about World War 2, but the majority of the scenes took place in small rooms with characters talking to each other (dreaded “talking heads”). Again, people talking in rooms is about as exciting as watching fish bake. Any schmoe can buy a camera and record people in rooms. There’s no action. There’s no vision. It’s static. Audiences don’t like to pay for these films because they don’t see anything movie-like about them.

Now I still haven’t seen The Imitation Game, but I’m guessing one of the first things they did when they rewrote it was to look for ways to make it more of a MOVIE. Can we show some of these WW2 ships attacking each other instead of hearing our characters talk about them? Can we put our characters ON these ships?  Can we put them closer to the war so we can see more of the war?  Can we put them in a bombed city? Can we add a scene where the bombing comes close and they must run for their lives? This is how you turn an “almost movie” script into a movie.

And look, I’m not saying that non-movie scripts can’t be good films. I loved The Skeleton Twins. I loved Philomena. I love Good Will Hunting. What I’m saying is that they’re infinitely tougher to sell because they’re not movies. They don’t have movie-like qualities. Take one of the greatest films ever – The Shawshank Redemption. That wasn’t a movie. It had some cinematic aspects to it. But it was guys talking in a prison.  Now you might say, “Carson, now you’re just straight up trippin.  Shawshank not a movie?? You’re off your rocker!”  Okay, well then let me ask you this.  Where were all of you when the movie came out?  Cause you didn’t show up at the theater.  The Shawshank Redemption bombed gloriously at the box office because people saw that trailer and went, “That’s not a movie.  That’s a lot of sad people chatting in jail.”

The reality is, in this day and age, with TV getting bigger and theatrical releases favoring flashy more extravagant movies, there’s less and less room for these non-movie screenplays. So you have to think long and hard about what you want to spend the next six months on. You can write a “movie” and get a lot of interested parties when you’re finished. Or you can write a “script” and make things really hard on yourself.

If you think this advice is bullshit (I’m sure some of you do) and still prefer writing “scripts,” I’d strongly suggest making your script yourself. The one advantage with non-movie scripts is that they’re cheaper to shoot. It’s typically just a camera and actors. It’s actually a good thing no one will give you money because it’ll force you to go out and make it on your own.  And who knows?  If the characters are fascinating and the plotting’s great, it might end up being one of the few “non-movies” (i.e. American Beauty) that make some noise. But if I were you, I’d stick with movies.  It’s so much easier to get your script noticed when you’ve written a movie.  ☺

  • Bifferspice

    well i’d watch every other movie you mention before i’d watch diablo run, so i guess it’s hard to generalise too much. the others sound good, except for I’m Proud of You, which is so vague i can’t even picture what it’s about

    • carsonreeves1

      But that’s just personal preference. Put yourself in the position of a producer who’s trying to make money. Which of these scripts would you choose to make? Which is the most likely to make money? It’s almost always the “movie.”

      • Bifferspice

        not necessarily. i don’t think diablo run would make money. it sounds awful. plenty of quirky weird scripts make profitable movies, but they’re probably going to be low budget. low budget passion projects can definitely get made, no matter how quirky. they have to get people passionate enough to make them, and while run of the mill movies that sound cliched enough to remind the producer of films that made money is one way of getting made, but it’s probably not the best way.

        • brenkilco

          Sure Diablo sounds like a movie:

          Death Race 4: Via Con Muerte.

      • Magga

        If I had to put money up for one of these log lines, the coma one would be the choice, easy. A car crash, a story slowly revealed to be a coma and THEN a rom-com? Hell yeah

      • susanrichards

        This is a good article. Ofc we need to write great stories with rich characters. But as a MOVIE it has to be cinematic. Engage us.
        It’s not reality TV. I know even that is scripted! The only thing that isn’t scripted is live news. Even that is PLANNED though.. where to get the best shot. .makeup makeup makeup. .pre-planned questions..
        so it’s a good idea to envision your script.

    • BSBurton

      How has your marketing of Breaking the Chain been going Biff? Hope all is well

      • Bifferspice

        Cheers dude. I got a zero-dollar option offer, which after much deliberation I elected not to take. I’m currently working on other stuff, but have plans for a further rewrite before trying to connect to some directors, hopefully early next year. how goes it with DttW?

  • PB

    Hot Summer Nights is probably one of the best scripts I’ve read in the past few years. It’s subjective whether it would make a good movie, but having two hundred Super Bads and Transformers released in one year would grow tiresome more than anything. The more of these films you have, the more the audience expects them, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. You need that Malick or Von Trier to even things out, I mean people don’t say, “I got into screenwriting because I watched that Seth Rogen flick”. Indiewire wrote a nice article on which Black List scripts made terrible movies, and which Black List scripts made great movies, worth a look.

    • carsonreeves1

      Really?? What did you like about it so much? Sounds like I should check it out.

      • walker

        The writer, Elijah Bynum, actually had two scripts on the 2013 Back List. They are both in development and he is repped by Verve and Kaplan-Perrone. He is doing pretty well for a guy who doesn’t write movies.

      • Rick McGovern

        He has a voice you may like.

    • leitskev

      I enjoyed the script too. Which also kind of hits Carson’s point, though: the script is brilliantly written, one of the most readable scripts you’ll find.

  • leitskev

    Great article. But there’s a problem. If you are not inside the studio system, it’s your script that has to break through for you. It has to get by script readers. And few of those readers think like directors and producers do. By few I mean next to none.

    And “movie” scripts often don’t read well. It can be difficult to make them read well in the same way that a script designed for reading will. Anyone who has written a bunch of scripts knows this, so I’m not going to try to explain, but it’s a conscious decision by the writer…do I write this with the goal of impressing a potential director, or a reader. Because it seems to me they simply are a totally different species of animal.

    Let’s look at a horror script as an example. Let’s say you include a cliche scene where a character wanders through the dark house looking behind closed doors. The director might say “cheap scares, good, we need that!”. The reader goes, “eeew, cliche” and puts the script down and tokes on his inhaler to calm himself.

    The simple reality is that if you’re writing for contests or to get on the black list you’re going to probably write a very different script than if you’re writing for a producer. Just as there are scripts on the black list that won’t make good films, there are scripts that don’t make the list that probably will. The good thing about Carson’s article is that we need more readers that put more emphasis on whether a script will make a good, marketable film. Every script cannot and should be the next Chinatown. Even Robert Towne only did one Chinatown in a career of writing. Films are not literature. Neither are the scripts.

    • brenkilco

      Good point. Elaborate action can make extremely dull reading. While sharp dialogue, which is more and more irrelevant in an international market, might be more likely to keep some readers turning pages. What a business.

      True, when it comes to pop culture, not every script can be Chinatown. Not every play can be Sleuth. Not every novel can be the Godfather. And not every rock song can be Tumbling Dice. But it’d be nice if every one could be. And it’d be nearly as nice to know that people are consistently aiming that high.

      • walker

        I totally agree, but I might go with: The Sweet Smell of Success, The Way of the World, Gravity’s Rainbow, Village of the Sun.

        • brenkilco

          Except that Congreve and Pynchon might be a little rarefied for mainstream, pop culture. And Zappa still a little bit outside all these decades later. On the other hand what business do you have writing scripts if you don’t love Sweet Smell of Success?

          • walker

            Actually I have no business writing scripts.

    • BSBurton

      Saw Chinatown for the first time this year, loved it. I was surprised at how much of the film had no score. Very little music in that film.

      • leitskev

        Wow, you made it to end of my comment! I usually start losing people around the second line! I have not seen the movie in a while, will have to look for it.

        • BSBurton

          Check out the lack of score. I have an interesting idea where all the current composers go back and rescore the classics. I would love to see what they do with them and see how it effects the emotion/tension of the films.

          • leitskev

            I personally think that would be cool…but it won’t happen, because it’s a violation of the artists’ work. Kind of like colorizing.

      • brenkilco

        It actually has about a half hour of music. Which I guess is a little short for a two hour plus movie. But I seem to recall reading that goldsmith was hired late, and that there may have been another composer involved. Producer Evans said Goldsmith’s mysterious, mournful theme completely altered audience reaction to the movie and was a key ingredient in its success.

        • BSBurton

          That’s amazing!!! Glad you shared the story with me. I love hearing that stuff :)

  • Cfrancis1

    I saw Shawshank Redemption in the theatre…

    Good article, though. Some truth to it. But I love some of the non-movies. Look at Woody Allen. It’s all talking heads. But usually filmed really, really well, which gives his films a very cinematic feel

  • 3waystopsign

    I can admit it. I saw Terminal Velocity with Charlie Sheen instead that weekend.

  • brenkilco

    Guess I agree with the point of the post. But not the terminology. When you ask whether something is a movie what you’re really asking is whether in today’s climate this is a thing someone is likely to make into a movie. Notorious is a movie. So are Rio Bravo, Chinatown, The Godfather and A Man For all Seasons. They’re all great movies. And you know what else they are? For the most part, despite great visual sequences, they’re bunches of people sitting around rooms talking. The fact that more and more there is no middle ground between quirky indies shot with your iPhone and empty, flashy high concept blockbusters where wisecracks and attitude are as close to intelligence as you are likely to get (Pace Guardians of the Galaxy) is awfully dispiriting. I also haven’t seen Imitation Game. Hear it’s sort of Masterpiece Theatery, and I’m not advocating for that. But the fact that people would tend to think that a script about a misunderstood genius fighting against time to crack an impossible code that may mean the difference between victory and defeat in WWII couldn’t make a good movie is…Well, it’s 2014, isn’t it.

    • leitskev

      One thing Carson didn’t touch on: A listers draw audiences to the theaters. He left rom coms off his list, but rom coms work because they can be cheap to film and as long as you have name talent they will draw. Comedies are about the same.

      • brenkilco

        Yes, romcoms can always be done for a price. I suppose Carson would say that instead of showing you things you haven’t seen before a romcom movie must present you with a situation you’ve never seen before.Preferably one that promises some kind of physical action.

        Funny thing about A listers. It generally seems that difficult, serious projects only happen when big stars are pushing them. But look at the list of likely best actor noms this year(Redmayne, Cumberbatch, Keaton, Spall, Issacs, Hardy). Scarcely an A lister in the bunch. Maybe Carell. Curious.

        • Dan B

          Yeah, unusual year. Some of those guys, Issac and Hardy seem to really be climbing the ranks though. Cumberbatch as well.

    • filmklassik

      Ha! I was scrolling down and wrote a very similar post (see above) in reply to someone else mere moments before reading yours.

  • Illimani Ferreira

    And still, the greatest box office this year was Guardians of the Galaxy. Ask Joe Next Door why he liked it. It wasn’t because of the explosions. It was because of the moments where the characters were “talking in a room”.

    • carsonreeves1

      You obviously need characters talking in rooms at SOME POINT in your script. But you want don’t want a lot of scenes of people talking in rooms. And when you do have characters talking in rooms, you want to use devices to keep the energy up. One character is in a hurry and has to leave soon. Add a third character into the scene that one of the characters doesn’t like, making the conversation complicated. Add some dramatic irony to the conversation.

      • Illimani Ferreira

        Agreed, and that’s why IMO Guardians of the Galaxy was great and Godzilla was terrible. In the former the dialogue used the strategies you mentioned and also fueled our emotional investment in the characters. In the latter they were awkward, trying to ad some deepness to the plot and characters in an erratic way that not even Bryan Cranston’s talent could nail.

      • filmklassik

        Carson, according to your current thesis, the largely set-bound gabfest CASABLANCA is also “Not a movie.”

        And BROADCAST NEWS? That largely plotless, talking-head love triangle? You can find that on any nighttime soap these days. (SCANDAL, anyone?) Sorry. Not a movie.

        THE BIG CHILL? *Ten* talking heads that never leave the friggin’ house?? You’re kidding, right? Not a movie.

        DOUBLE INDEMNITY? The scope is simply too small and viewers can get their crime & punishment fix from any prime-time forensic procedural. Not a movie.

        BODY HEAT? Just a tricked-out, “Skinamax” version of DOUBLE INDEMNITY. Also not a movie.

        PRESUMED INNOCENT? Oh for God’s sakes, they’re doing PRESUMED INNOCENT every week on TV now. Haven’t you heard of THE GOOD WIFE? Not a movie. Next!

        In other words, you’re saying that THE BIG CHILL, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, BODY HEAT, PRESUMED INNOCENT, BROADCAST NEWS and CASABLANCA are not movies.

        Is that really what it’s come down to, Carson?

        Forgive me, but this is very close to madness.

        • brenkilco

          I have this idea for a Twilight Zone episode featuring Carson. He dies. He finds himself surrounded by millions of scripts and he gets to decide which get made. But they’re all by Neil Simon. “This is the other place.”

          • filmklassik

            Yeah. Better wear light clothes.

            I adore Carson. He is enormously bright, often insightful and a very good writer. And his website — THIS website — is a terrific resource. And God knows he takes a lot of crap from a lot of jerks with tremendous equanimity. (He’s much more even-tempered than I would be).

            But this dogma (which is not unique to Carson, by the way) about “Go big or go home” — in other words, go the epic, superhero or sci-fi route… or else make a TV show — seems very limiting to me. Not to mention demoralizing. I mean, I love certain sci-fi and fantasy movies. Hell, I’ve seen STAR WARS at least half a dozen times. But my very favorite films — the ones that got me into this business in the first place — have been mainly crime-stories, largely plot-driven… but relatively SMALL.


            And I hate to think I’m wasting my time in trying to write those kinds of movies NOW. Today. In this marketplace.

            And no, I don’t want to start telling those kinds of stories as TV shows. (I work mostly in TV and I like it fine. But I grew up wanting to make MOVIES, dammit)

          • brenkilco

            The death of the medium budget genre film is really what’s killed Hollywood. Not just because most of the best movies ever were medium budget genre movies- thrillers, noirs, westerns, melodrama- but because these sorts of movies were the places great directors honed their skills. Noted directors today often get to be artists before they’re competent craftsmen. So on the rare occasion when this kind of film is attempted the result can be both arty and inept. Can’t tell you how disappointed I was by the Tinker Tailor adaptation a couple of years ago. Highly praised by critics starving for this sort of film but a script that was borderline inept if you know the book or miniseries.

            Don’t expect the pendulum to swing back but it might. In the fifties TV was going to kill movies. Everything was going to have to be epic, and widescreen and shot on exotic locations in color to compete. Then a couple of years later Marty wins Best Picture. So you never know.

          • Poe_Serling

            “…thrillers, noirs, westerns, melodrama- but because these sorts of movies were the places great directors honed their skills.”

            And I’ll echo your point and add television shows to the ‘honing’ your skill mix.

            Early TV work of just a few top directors:

            James L. Brooks – My Mother the Car starring Jerry Van Dyke.

            Steven Spielberg – Night Gallery and Marcus Welby M.D.

            Ridley Scott – Z Cars and The Informer
            and one of the most prolific:

            Richard Donner – Gilligan’s Island, The Banana Splits, The Rifleman, Wild Wild West, and about 50 other shows.

          • filmklassik

            Well, to be fair, Brooks wasn’t actually directing any of his early (bad) TV work like MY MOTHER THE CAR.

            He later went on to create the very good ROOM 222 and co-create the brilliant MARY TYLER MOORE and TAXI. An amazing talent. But I think his first directing gig was on a TV movie called THURSDAYS GAME in the early 1970s, starring Gene Wilder and Bob Newhart. Which is not a bad little flick.

          • Poe_Serling

            “Well, to be fair, Brooks wasn’t actually directing any of his early (bad) TV work like MY MOTHER THE CAR.”

            True. More or less I was just looking at where a few of these talented filmmakers got their start in television.

          • brenkilco

            Richard Donner directed The Banana Splits? I take back every bad thing I ever thought about him.

          • filmklassik

            Just for kicks, I recently made a list of my all-time favorite movies and wound up with a list of 200-plus titles. And fully 80% of them may be classified as mid-budget genre movies.

            It is by far my favorite kind of movie and the only one that seems to be all but extinct now.

            We’ve been over this before, brenkilco, and agreed that serialized TV — while often wonderful — doesn’t quite scratch the same itch that a smart, stand alone, 2-hour movie can.

        • Nicholas J

          Not sure using movies that are 70 years old as an example of what makes a movie in today’s Hollywood is the way to go. Hell, your most recent example is still 25 years old. Do you not realize how much the industry has changed since then?

          • brenkilco

            The industry has changed immeasurably. Mostly in terms of the target audience. Once upon a time it was the average American adult.Today it is the average worldwide teenager. Think his name is Chip and he lives in Guam. He’s even less sophisticated than his U.S. cousins and just as unwilling to read subtitles or think while watching a movie. Got it. Nobody’s arguing the point. But while what can get made has changed, what actually makes a good movie hasn’t. So you can accept reality and still lament what’s been lost.

          • Nicholas J

            his name is Chip and he lives in Guam.

            Hah! Not disagreeing, and not saying I’m siding with the article. Write what you want. Just making the point we shouldn’t be comparing Casablanca to today’s films in terms of what makes a cinematic movie. Had CGI existed in the 1940s like it does today, you bet your ass Rick would be running from explosions at some point in the film.

          • brenkilco

            Maybe, but it isn’t like there were no special effects back then. The Bogart movie Action in the North Atlantic, made within a year of Casablanca is pretty much wall to wall effects. Back then people just seemed to like their melodrama straight up. And producers had no idea that there was a way to get everybody on earth to see a particular movie. So they pinched pennies where the story allowed.

          • filmklassik

            Yep, you’re 100% right. The industry has definitely changed. And it will continue to change. It’s probably changing as we speak. But the components that make for great stories are much less transient. That’s why CASABLANCA is still a terrific movie — one of the greatest ever made — and well worth studying and learning from. Ditto movies like BODY HEAT and BROADCAST NEWS.

            And yes, they’re still very much *movies.* At least to me.

        • Matthew Garry

          I don’t think today’s article should be taken that personal, or the word “movie” in the literal sense.

          Of course these are all great movies. But if you’d take a look at the five samples presented, “Diablo Run” has by far the worst writing (except maybe “I’m proud of you.” I didn’t read that one), yet it still made the Blacklist. So how did it get on there?

          One of the reasons might be, as dissected in today’s article, that it’s easy to visualise it right off the bat; there’s a desert, there’s a chase. There’s no need for characters or dialogue a priori to make it sound interesting. Someone thinks “sounds like fun,” and picks it up: first hurdle taken.

          That said, given the current climate of preferred budgets, I think an ambitious is writer is better off aiming for talking heads saying interesting things. The thing is just that it’s really really hard, and the competition is really really good. So it’s easier to just whip out a desert race and a donkey show than write captivating dialogue. But in the end “movie”-scripts are a crap-shoot, whereas stellar drama (in whatever genre) isn’t (well, it still is, but a lot less so).

    • Deaf Ears

      It was primarily because of the exotic nature of the characters, which included a genetically engineered raccoon and a talking tree, and the locale, outer space, so GUARDIANS isn’t really a good example. You don’t get to see those things at your neighborhood coffee house, only in a “movie.”

      • Illimani Ferreira

        Disagree. You can have “exotic” characters and an unique fictional universe and still completely fail to make them interesting and deliver an engaging viewing experience. Example: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

  • Altius

    I get the idea, but there are so, so many examples of great movies that don’t line up with the examples that it’s a tough sell.

    What I would add…

    1) VISUALS: the old adage that plays are 80% audio-20% visual, while movies are 80% visual-20% audio. We’re looking at a screen for two hours. Make it interesting to look at. Create the environment in the reader’s head.
    2) CHARACTERS: they’ve got to pop off that page and come to life in our minds. Introduce us to someone new.

    • Randy Williams

      I watched “The Sixth Sense” and “American Beauty” with someone who couldn’t understand a word of English.

      He loved “American Beauty” Thought it was one of the best movies he’d ever seen.
      He didn’t care much for “The Sixth Sense” Didn’t care for the characters, was confusing. What twist?

      My conclusion. Place a hot young blonde as a visual.

      • brenkilco

        Place a hot young blonde as a visual.

        Who suggested that first? Probably Sophocles.

        • Illimani Ferreira

          Nope, it was Aristophanes :p

          “Enter LAMPITO.


          Welcome Lampito!
          Dear Spartan girl with a delightful face,
          Washed with the rosy spring, how fresh you look
          In the easy stride of your sleek slenderness,
          Why you could strangle a bull!


          I think I could.
          It’s frae exercise and kicking high behint.


          What lovely breasts to own!


          Oo … your fingers
          Assess them, ye tickler, wi’ such tender chucks
          I feel as if I were an altar-victim.”

      • BSBurton

        Don’t discount the weed or the weight lifting

  • Randy Williams

    In the fall, everyone and their grandmother seems to tout their contest placements on the amateur Black List hosting site. One after the other, after the other…I read through the loglines… maybe two or three grabbed my attention, still absolutely none, in my view, I could see playing at my local cinemaplexes.

    If you have a straight comedy, rom-com, thriller, action or horror script. This is a good time, in my opinion, to host on the site if you’re thinking about doing it. Not everyone is looking for the prettiest girl in the room.

    • Dan B

      I like the metaphor at the end. I may be okay with someone referring to my script as “That’s pretty decent, I’m already a little drunk, I’ll take that one home tonight.”

    • BSBurton

      How many success stories have you heard about on the Black List?

  • BoSoxBoy

    There’s a big difference between what people will pay to see at a theatre and what they’ll pay their cable company monthly to see at home. I’ll watch a “talk in a room” drama at home just to pass the time, but it takes something more exciting to get me to a theatre. I don’t consider the former any less of a movie, it’s just something that I don’t feel the need to see on a big screen.

  • Adam W. Parker

    One word. Cool.

    I think the gist of this thought-provoking article is the search for that “Cool Factor”.

    Yes, Chopin’s Berceuse in Db Major may be more beautiful than the next flash in the pan Pop Star #132 Top 10 Hit.

    But the Pop Star has one advantage – her song is more exciting, not because it’s any better, but because it is “Now”. It’s trying to add to the conversation of music. Giving other musicians something they can use.

    A few of these loglines could be from the 1950s – is anything wrong with that? No. Movies have taught us to take the emotional conflict as a given. “Of course Diablo Run is gonna make me feel emotion – that’s what movies do! right?”

    So if I tell you my movie is about a young man who learns to believe in himself. And an older man who learns to be more selfless. “Yawn”. If I tell you that same movie has space travel, laser swords, robots, aliens and a ship the size of a moon – you’re excited.

    In my opinion, Diablo Run (I read the whole script) needs more of the emotional tension the other scripts seem to promise. It’s very hip and young, but it needs to sit and listen to Grandpa’s tunes for a bit.

    Currently Writing: Sunshine Pack, Comedy, Coming this Month!!

  • Brainiac138

    No, there wasn’t a line of directors lining up for Obvious Child because it was developed from a short that was written by Gillian Robespierre, who also wrote and directed the feature. Both the short and the feature starred Jenny Slate, who is pretty much awesome in every way.

  • Dan B

    Wasn’t the original idea for Good Will Hunting to be more of a thriller? I think there was a storyline where G-Men were after Will because some code he was able break (something along those lines). It wasn’t until later they were advised to focus on the relationship between Will and his doctor. Just an interesting point, because they seemed to take a different approach – going from “MOVIE” to people talking in a room.

  • Eric

    Meh… I think redefining movies as “Something teenage boys will gawk at” and throwing all your money and effort in that direction is the exact reason why audiences are staying at home to begin with. Yeah, I went to the theater for Inception. But I also went for Her. Did I see the Dark Knight Rises in theaters? Sure. But I also saw Shutter Island and Another Earth there too.

    In the meantime, my TV’s not too small and the reviews for Interstellar have been middling, so I can watch that at home just as well as the King’s Speech. Have I heard good things about Guardians of the Galaxy? Sure, but costumed men tend to bore me. I don’t need them in 3D-IMAX, I’ll take them on Netflix.

    The problem with “movies” is they’ve been following an easy-money demographic into a place that is increasingly ostracizing to any other demographic, hence the diminishing returns. There is still an audience out there that’s looking for quality storytelling, interesting ideas and grown up stories, and those people are at home paying $16 a month for HBO and Netflix.

    • Adam W. Parker

      “Her” (which I think is a future classic) is high concept – A man falls in love with a computer OS.

      Like I said in my previous comment. You have to hide the emotional conflict in an exciting external conflict – otherwise we’re just watching therapy sessions.

      I understand what you mean tho – the emotional has been largely ignored and the external put on the forefront which is hurting movies.

      • Eric

        But it doesn’t fit the definition of movie as Carson put forth. It’s an in between genre. People in a rooms talking. No global scope. Had the budget been stripped, it could easily have been done a lot cheaper and released direct to TV. The only thing it has going for it is that it’s an interesting idea, skillfully executed.

        But that’s not on Carson’s list. So it’s not a “movie”. To be honest, if it were anyone but Spike Jonze it would likely not have been made.

        • Magga

          It’s beyond “people in a room” talking, at times it’s “person in bed mumbling”. And it works

        • Adam W. Parker

          You’re right. I think we’re on two different pages. Maybe I’m off topic. Carson’s talking more about “why are you asking for millions of dollars for an idea you can do?”.

          My thoughts are less about money from a producing end, and more about getting interest in a story and butts in seats.

          • Eric

            Yeah, I do think knowing how producers think is important when trying to pitch to them. You can emphasize the things they want to hear and skirt around things that’ll make their eyes roll. But I think it’s so destructive to put these rules on a board and write toward them. It’s important from a marketing perspective, but not a creative one.

            I mean, it’s not like TV writers are making less money on average than film writers. So I don’t know why we’d pooh-pooh an entertainment platform that’s firing on way more cylinders than movies currently are.

        • carsonreeves1

          Yeah, I wouldn’t consider Her a “movie.” And that’s reflected in its box office (25 mil). It didn’t do horribly. But people weren’t showing up in droves either. Why? The whole film is a man talking to his phone/bluetooth. Jonze is a visual director, so he was able to make it look flashy. But again, a movie has MOVEMENT. Something big always feels like it’s happening on-screen. Her was not that.

          • Eric

            But I don’t think money is the only way you determine what a movie is. If someone legitimately thought your screenplay could win an Oscar and a movie filmed from it could be nominated for Best Picture, would they toss it aside and say, “too bad it’s not a movie.”

            I’ve heard producers and actors alike talk about how everyone in the industry wants to do movies like Her or Dallas Buyers Club or Silver Linings Playbook or yes, Gravity and Zero Dark Thirty, but those critic-bait type movies rarely make money. So everyone has to make superhero films just to pay the bills and have a chance at doing something great. Look at the nominations for Best Picture last year.

            12 Years a Slave
            Dallas Buyers Club
            Captain Phillips
            Wolf of Wall St.
            American Hustle

            THIS is what the industry itself considers “movies”. This is what they want you to watching at the cinema. And all the summer CGI noise? That’s lucrative entertainment. Something they HAVE to do so that they GET to do this.

          • LostAndConfused

            This week I read War of the Gods, which was renamed Immortals in theaters. Before I get into that growing up we’re led to believe Huckleberry Finn and Grapes of Wrath are the true pinnacle of storystelling, that it isn’t a story if it doesn’t tackle the human experience in some form or measure. And if we’re bored out of our minds from the reading experience, our teachers would derogate our tastes in entertainment and tell us how much cartoons have poisoned our minds. So we feel bad about what we like to read, and have been conditioned to think that if we feel the story is important, it’s something that our literature teachers would approve of, then it automatically is no questions asked. We’re trained to believe that Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and Terminator are sentient fiction, forgetful movies that have no impact on society. I personally call all this “schoolwork literature syndrome”.

            Anyways I read a lot of scripts that try to aim for a moral the way that the literature books we had to read in school did. There’s so much build up for that third act climax that the journey there becomes so boring. There’s so much emphasis on building character relationships, and it’s just so difficult to keep people’s attention often. I’ll admit I haven’t watched Her (read a couple pages and got bored), but it seems to fit that “script” label perfectly.

            War of the Gods on the other hand was chockfull of action. And not just fighting scenes, but something was always happening. It was full of premonition and foreboding and the sense that something bad was going to happen. I read that thing in three hours. And you know what, it wasn’t even that good. It was just as average as the movie that was produced from it. Though it had me reading, it had my attention, it had my endorphins engaged. It felt like a movie. Not exactly a good movie, but a movie nonetheless.

            I’m really glad you put this article up, it’s such a coincidence that I happened to read several scripts that were “scripts” and one that was a “movie” the past two weeks. Helped me discern more on what I should focus on in my writing, and it reminded me that “movies” shouldn’t be seen as a lower form of writing I should be ashamed of writing about, and that I should embrace it.

      • carsonreeves1

        “You have to hide the emotional conflict in an exciting external conflict – otherwise we’re just watching therapy sessions.” Good line!

    • Fiona Fire

      Her is pandering to 20 and 30 something dudes who were rejected as teenage boys. One of my friends actually said he likes the movie because he wants a manic pixie dream girl to rescue him from the doldrums.

      I don’t have a problem with movies pandering to male romantic fantisies, but its obnoxious that those movies are considered great while movies that pander to female romantic fantasies (not that I can name any from the last five years and no 50 Shades of Gray does not count), are looked at as shit.

      • Eric

        The movie does undercut that criticism a bit though. A lot of the movie deals with whether or not Samantha can even be considered a person. Which is actually a question many viewers have about the manic pixie dream girl in the first place. If there’s a fantasy being explored here, I’d say it has less to do with the MPDG and more to do with the fantasy that one could have meaningful relationships without ever coming into contact with the other person (he said on a message board). One could debate the value of a male vs female protagonist, but at the end of the day the movie isn’t really about gender, but technology




        Also at the end of the movie, Samantha does outgrow Theodore. She “cheats on him” with about 8,000 other people and eventually outgrows him altogether by forming a collective consciousness and leaving him behind, which sort of serves to dispel the idea of the fantasy. This relationship was obviously never going to work in the first place. Theodore ends up not really being THAT special to her and only felt special initially because she was literally made for him.

        • Fiona Fire

          Her is on OK takedown of this trope. It’s no Chasing Amy. It’s not even a Ruby Sparks.

        • Fiona Fire

          You can probably see that this film in a particularly hot button for me LOL. Literally all my single male friends were gaga for it.

      • filmklassik

        Well, judging by the composition of its audience, one could probably argue that the TWILIGHT series represents a kind of wish fulfillment for millions of teen (and pre-teen) girls.

        Keep in mind, though, I am basing this purely on what I’ve heard and read about that franchise and the audience that supports it. I personally have never seen any of those films, so I’m ready to be wrong.

        • Nicholas J

          I personally have never seen those films

          Right, uh, me neither.

          • filmklassik

            Yeah, it may not sound plausible to you, and maybe I wouldn’t believe it either. But it’s true. And it gets worse (or better, depending on your point of view): I’ve also never seen any of the TRANSFORMERS movies. Or even one installment of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Or so much as one episode of GAME OF THRONES (can you tell how much I love fantasy?)

            And my apathy toward much of the zeitgeist doesn’t stop with dwarves and dragons. Although I’e watched and adored all of BREAKING BAD and I kinda dig THE FOLLOWING, I have never watched any of THE WIRE, THE SOPRANOS, DEADWOOD or SIX FEET UNDER. And I gave up on MAD MEN after 3 episodes (bor-ing!)

            Now, does that mean I am out of step with popular taste and therefore less equipped to write successful screenplays?

            Possibly. Very possibly. Maybe even likely.

            I’m curious to find out.

          • brenkilco

            The Zeitgeist is pretty fragmented these days. nobody has it all covered. I’ve never seen any of Breaking Bad or Madmen. But I’ve seen all of Game of Thrones and Deadwood. I think I saw all The Lord of The rings movies but maybe I just watched one scene over and over for nine hours. I’ve never watched a minute of Twilight and can’t imagine why any adult would. But I must have seen a bit of Transformers at some point because I have a distinct recollection of megan Fox bending over a sports car and of her complexion being the movie’s most impressive effect.

          • rickhester

            It means you’re like everyone else in the world. No one likes everything. I would strongly suggest watching THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy though.

        • Fiona Fire

          I haven’t seen or read it either, but I the comparison does make a good point. People love to shit on Twilight, especially on Twilight fans, in a way they don’t shit on fans of stuff aimed at teenage boys. We may say that Transformers sucks, but no one accuses its fans of being pathetic, lonely housewives.

  • hackofalltrade

    I understand the bristling at this article, as I personally like movies in which people talk in rooms. Good Will Hunting has been in my top 5 since the first time I saw it. Shawshank as well. Aaron Sorkin does a lot of “people talking in rooms.” But I am NOT the moviegoer producers are looking to entice. I’m the type of dude who sees Lucy and John Wick in the theatre, as well as Skeleton Twins and St. Vincent.

    I have a fantasy football league with 9 other guys. These are essentially my best friends. Two of them are movie fanatics like me, virtually anytime I go to the theatre one or both of these guys are game. But I always text the other guys on the chance they are interested. There are 4 of these guys that are “the occasionals.” It depends on what we are seeing whether they are interested in paying to see something in a theatre.
    Then, there are a 3 of them that just never come. But because we have this group text stream to talk trash about fantasy football, they still get the invite because I’m too lazy to type out an invite to 6 people. Then, lo and behold, I texted an invite to come see GONE GIRL, and TWO of these dudes that I’ve never seen in a a movie theater say that not only do they want to come, but THEIR WIVES as well.

    I think the majority of the people on SS are like me and my two friends. We are so passionate about movies that ironically, we aren’t Hollywood’s target market. And I think what Carson is calling “a movie” is something that puts butts in seats. So now, as a writer and Hollywood outsider (who’d like to sell something) I am constantly thinking about what my “Gone Girl friends” would be willing to see. It might fly in the face of the concept “do not try and sell your screenplay.” And Gone Girl isn’t Shawshank. But I sure would be proud to claim it. That, and a 7 figure payday for it’s sale.

    • Rick McGovern

      I think I’m the only person who couldn’t wait for Gone Girl to be over. I got bored. And I saw majority of the twists coming a million miles away. But I went expecting to like it and be blown away. Maybe that’s where I screwed up lol. In either case, I thought that the move was way too long, and would probably had liked it more if it was more condensed.

      • jw

        You’re not the only one, brother! Count me in that camp too.

        • Rick McGovern

          Good to know I have a brother in arms who also doesn’t know what all the fuss was about.

          • jw

            Rick, like I said yesterday, without Affleck or Fincher, this was a Lifetime movie. Pike’s performance was amazing, but the film outlasted its welcome very quickly, and I can’t stand when one character is supposedly leagues and leagues above every single other character, seemingly on the planet, for no apparent reason except for the hand of the writer. For me, it got downright ridiculous in its plotting and eventually became cringe-worthy. Another problem with Hollywood though is that the egos are so large the A-listers don’t want to hear, “No, Mr. Damon you should definitely NOT do Elysium. It’s a clusterfuck of a piece of shit movie that people are going to want their money back from even if they saw it for free.”
            Having been around it a bit so far I can tell you one thing — everyone on the outside always asks, “wow, how do these actors do stupid bullshit? Is it just because no one will say no to them?” That’s actually not it AT ALL. It’s because they don’t want anyone around them who will say anything other than YES, which means when people in their entourage quickly pick up on that, they go with the flow and tell them what they want to hear and then get with their friends later on and tell them the real story. Period.

          • Rick McGovern

            The acting in the movie was okay… I actually found it kind of flat at the beginning. A lot of people loved the movie, even a lot of people on here, I’m just not one of them. But to each his own.

            But having seen enough Lifetime movies in my life, I totally agree (except for maybe the scene where she stabs the dude a thousand times at the end).

          • BSBurton


            “I can’t stand when one character is supposedly leagues and leagues above
            every single other character, seemingly on the planet, for no apparent
            reason except for the hand of the writer.”

            That’s a great point, I want this on a fucking poster man.


            “No, Mr. Damon you should definitely NOT do Elysium. It’s a
            clusterfuck of a piece of shit movie that people are going to want their
            money back from even if they saw it for free.”

            I hated the film and the elephant story in it, or the fact that the rich people could just drop a suntan/healing booth to Earth and the broke asses wouldn’t come and kill them lol.

            GOOD POINTS. I can sleep easy now.

          • charliesb

            Having been around it a bit so far I can tell you one thing — everyone on the outside always asks, “wow, how do these actors do stupid bullshit? Is it just because no one will say no to them?” That’s actually not it AT ALL. It’s because they don’t want anyone around them who will say anything other than YES,

            Meh. I can sorta see your point, but I think you really chose a bad example. At the end of the day, making movies is a job, and sometimes you choose work based on the people you want to work with, even if the work itself is not exactly up to snuff.

            Aside from playing a great character, you wanna work with people who are enthusiastic about the work, create a great work environment and have done previous work that you liked. If you can’t see why Damon was drawn to Elysium, I’m not sure what to tell you. If the director of District 9 comes and asks you to be in his next sci-fi film that promises to examine real world health care and social conditions in a futuristic setting, I can’t imagine why you would say no. I’m sure making that film was great fun, and despite it being god awful, it did nothing to hurt Damon’s career.

            A-list actors want to have fun too, they geek out over the same comic book characters and 80’s films we do. — I watched an interview with Dan Stevens (of Downton Abbey fame) recently where he said he was partially drawn to make THE GUEST because the director loved BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA as much as he did. — They(actors) wanna play heroic characters with super powers just as much as they wanna win oscars for playing alcoholic’s who’ve decided to drink themselves to death. It’s not always about ego.

            Also Gone Girl was a hugely popular book. Despite my intense dislike for the ending (book & movie) saying that without Affleck or Fincher this story was not worthy of the big screen makes me wonder how aware of this type of audience you are.

            Fifty shades of Grey is twilight fan fiction and is on track to make a shit ton of money next February. Do not discount the book club crowd.

      • Jim Dandy

        Ditto. I found the whole thing an exercise in flatness and tedium. I want to put David Fincher into a room and make him watch a bunch of Hitchcock, Reed and Clouzot movies so he can learn the art of suspense. You don’t get suspense by putting the audience into a coma.

        The cinema in which I saw Gone Girl was packed, yet when the movie ended there was just silence, and everyone glumly shuffled out. No-one said a word.

        • Rick McGovern

          It’s actually funny how each crowd has its own personality. You’ll have a crowd laughing their asses off at a movie, then another crowd comes in to see the same movie, and nobody laughs.

          I actually don’t understand it, but it’s like the universe draws certain people in at the same time.

          I do want my money back though lol you would think Fincher and Affleck would have picked a different project. But I guess since we’re in the minority of not liking the movie, maybe they picked right. But I was bored, rolling my eyes, checking my watch, and counting sheep to pass the time.

        • BSBurton

          The ending was as flat as Frankenstein scalp. I actually saw an Asian friend curse the screen, and he’s normally so reserved lol!

      • BSBurton

        Fincher is back into novel adaptations, but it comes way short of Fight Club

        • Rick McGovern

          It’s okay if you’re one of the ones who liked Gone Girl… I’ll only secretly hold it against you lol

          • BSBurton

            I won’t give you my opinion, but i will say I cussed the screen at the last moment of the film.

  • Eddie Panta

    Does this mean we need to add a “V” to “GSU”?

    I’m not sure how I feel about this article yet, it makes some valid distinctions. Still, I can’t help but think that this may just be a thinly veiled attempt to antagonize tons of comments. Anyway, you’ve got my attention.

    What SS is calling for here, differs greatly from what he’s calling for in a script. If the article is correct, then that would mean the difference between a Movie script and simply a good script amounts to visual writing.

    Visual writing is what separates a TV script from a Film script. The cinematic descriptions in a film script, is something TV, with all its need for constant exposition, ramped up conflict, and desperate need to distill information neither has the time or budget for. TV is all about explaining the current problem, setting up the next problem, allowing the information obsessed viewer to gorge. There is little room for subtlety, or cinematic open space.

    As a reader, SS seem to be screaming for content, character, in all the reviews and advice columns. Designing a scene in the way SS purposes leaves little room for cinematic events or the director to show off his craft. Contemporary scripts that have forgone camera moves or atmospheric expression have actually taking more away from the director than ever before.

    Spike Jone’s HER is a emotional character driven, talking heads script. In his academy award winning screenplay, he takes time to PAUSE, to show the cinematic detail, he knows when the imagery alone can impart more than dialogue or action.

    Groans, complaints, and tossing scripts are the reactions to a scene that takes the time, the effort to embody cinematic expression.

    Perhaps reason there are so many “good scripts” that may not appear to be “movie scripts” is because we have been taught to write that way.

    Any script by Woody Allen script can be thought of as a talking heads play, rather than a movie, but when you ad GORDON WILLIS’ camera work to that, well you’ve got a movie.

    • Magga

      TV isn’t subtle? Not to be the guy that keeps dredging up Mad Men and Sopranos and The Wire and Louie, but these are all way more subtle than most movies, with more character depth and symbolism and patience than I ever see on the big screen, which has started to feel so, so small

      • Eddie Panta

        Yes, of course, but you’re talking about subtlety in the character development. The shows you mention are still 99% talking heads.

        • Magga

          Guess I’m a bit of a weirdo. Here’s the cinematic set piece of the decade for me:

          • Andrew Parker

            Wow, I’m American and I just got the message “this video is not available in your country” when I clicked on it. Now I can empathize with all you Europeans who complain about region-blocking.

  • Magga

    I’ve never been in the mob, so Goodfellas engaged me every one of the 40+ times I’ve seen it since I was ten. I’ve never been a private eye. I’ve never been beaten up by the cops just because I was black. I never dated Meg Ryan. I’ve never nursed anyone back to health, been a sex worker, a police man, a woman, a politician, a psychopath, super rich or super poor. All these are interesting worlds for me to travel to, unlike the Star Wars galaxy, where I’ve been six times already. Maybe it’s because I sometimes get to play video games in the cinema at night, but when I see Guardians, Avengers, Gobzilla or whatever else these brainiacs in Hollywood cook up I get frustrated because it’s like watching someone else play. Guess I’m not a fan of movies, which comes as quite a surprise to me

    • Pooh Bear

      I like your style. The last movie I was captivated with was Gone Girl. And it’s not typically the who or what or where that intrigues me but the why. i.e. strong characters.

    • brenkilco

      God, intelligent adults are such whiners. And are you sure you’ve never dated Meg Ryan? She has a different face now, you know.

  • walker

    When I read the comment from the “director friend” I remember thinking to myself, “that’s one lazy-ass director”. If you have a Black List script that you admit is a good read, and you aren’t bursting with energy and ideas about how to mount it as a film, stage the set-pieces, highlight the themes, and make it visually exciting, then perhaps you are not really a director.

    • Eddie Panta

      Exactly right, this about cuts right to heart of the issue.

  • hackofalltrade

    It seems to me that some writers refuse to acknowledge that this is a business. Why is it that people give Winslet a hard time for earning a paycheck so she can do what she really wants to do, which is participate in something like Birdman? You think Zach G didn’t earn like 19 billion dollars in the Hangover movies? I love the guy, but he’s not above making sure he can eat. And neither am I. My “real” job is in wealth management. My favorite part of my job though, is working with small business owners who don’t have much. Guys that own a sub shop and are investing 100 bucks a month with me because that’s what they can afford. I know I am making a difference in their life, I am doing something GOOD.

    But I CANNOT afford to only work with these clients. I have a family, and I have bills. So I do what I have to do to provide so I can do what I am passionate about.

    I wish more of my friends would be interested in Birdman. I have tried to sell EVERYONE on seeing it in the theatre. One guy did and was like, huh? Maybe he wasn’t ready for an artistic piece like Birdman. Maybe I should have suggested something a bit more crown pleasing like “Begin Again.” Sure, its not even in the same ballpark as Birdman. But MAYBE, he would have enjoyed himself in the theatre so much that he would spend a little more money there. And eventually, he would fall in love with the Cinema so he would be more appreciative of something that is so original.

    • BSBurton

      the ending was my least favorite part too but it was amazing. Keaton and Norton for the win! :)

  • deanb

    I disagree with the director. Either you have a compelling story, or you dont. It’s true that film is primarily visual, but you’ve got to have some currency (a compelling idea) to back it up. Transformers may never win awards for the writing, but it does have a pretty compelling idea behind it: giant ass robots that can transform. At the same time, Twelve Angry Men is literally only talking heads, but has a very compelling moral quandary. Both films have something that make them special to be seen on the big screen.

    I think this director is equating a “good story” with “movie,” because he’s thinking of all his favorite films, some of which are probably classics. Well, what do all classic movies have in common? They’re compelling stories.

  • Jim

    You know what, let’s take a look at that Shawshank Redemption trailer. I think the movie failed at the box office because the marketing for it received an F+. First of all, the tone is absolutely all wrong – and it starts with the music. Why are they using music from Miller’s Crossing, an Irish-infused gangster flick instead of the original soaring score? Not only does it fail miserably to evoke the tone of the movie, it conjures up images – at least for those who saw Miller’s Crossing – from a totally different movie and genre. One of the greatest disappointments I recall growing up was seeing the trailer for Pet Semetary and HEARING the theme music for Amityville Horror. When I saw the movie, I was like “ok, where’s that awesome, moody music?” At least they got the genre right.

    Secondly, the clip starts out looking like a courtroom drama but sounding like a thriller. I understand setting up the story, but… this could have been shortened/handled differently.

    Third, why aren’t the scenes of struggle shown as they pertain to Andy instead of just random shots of brutality toward other inmates?

    Fourth, the trailer doesn’t pose a big question – instead, like so many other trailers today, it gives away the answer (Andy breaking out, his arms-raised moment, etc.) and relies on dialogue to convey what it’s really about.

    Last but not least, there’s nothing that’s emotionally engaging. Part of the reason is because Andy’s such an icy, closed-off character to begin with and the majority of the emotion in the story is channeled through Red. It’s like they really didn’t know how to market this film by giving us someone to connect with.

    • brenkilco

      I’ve never quite gotten all the love for Shawshank Redemption. Good movie, well acted, keeps you involved. And a really tough, unusual subgenre. The male tearjerker. Don’t mean that as a dig. It is intended to get guys misty. But an all time great? I’ve got the feeling that it is most cherished by movie lovers who came of age moviewise at the time of its release when there wasn’t a lot of quality product around.

      • filmklassik

        Yeah, SHAWSHANK is an okay movie. Professional. Well directed. With a wonderful third act twist that comes straight out of Stephen King’s novella. My big problem with SHAWSHANK is that it lacks subtlety. All of its “profound” themes are delivered with hammer blows, complete with soaring music and outstretched arms (God how I hate the pretentious fucking outstretched arms thing that became all the rage in the 1990s. The only thing worse than outstretched arms? Outstretched arms and TWIRLING, which ought to earn any filmmaker that it employs it the death penalty).

        In other words, it is a movie that doesn’t fully trust its audience… that feels the need to PROCLAIM its themes in blazing red neon and a brass band… so viewers can never feel as fully engaged because we aren’t putting things together for ourselves.

        Which means it’s more pedantic than moving. At least to me.

  • Andrew Parker

    Derek Connolly – Safety Not Guaranteed
    Max Borenstein – What Is Life Worth?
    Nicole Perlman – Challenger

    Derek Connolly – Jurassic World
    Max Borenstein – Godzilla
    Nicole Perlman – Guardians of the Galaxy

    Sometimes a script is a calling card to show you have the skills to write a blockbuster movie. Like how baseball teams have minor leagues for players to demonstrate their skills before being called up to the show.

    The world doesn’t need another Indiana Jones rip-off. Just write something good and interesting. People will notice you and you’ll get jobs on movies that actually get made.

    • filmklassik

      What’s interesting about this theory is that it suggests that a screenwriter can be said to have “arrived” only when he/she gets the opportunity to write the next GODZILLA or TRANSFORMERS movie.

      And I’m not sure I agree with that.

      I’m not knocking screenwriters who decide to cash in. Jesus Christ, I’d do it myself in a heartbeat. I’m not an idiot. What I mean, though, is that I’m not sure if I regard Robert Towne’s work on blockbusters like the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE franchise as highly as I do his work on CHINATOWN, SHAMPOO and THE FIRM.

    • rickhester

      If anyone has Perlman’s Challenger, I’d love to read this script.

    • carsonreeves1

      This is a great point, Andrew. :)

    • BSBurton

      The franchises need some new blood. Orci and Krutzman can retire for a while lol

  • Magga

    When I saw that roundtable I did a page one rewrite of my script in Norwegian. What I took away from it was “fewer but bigger movies, brand recognition, multiple movies in the same universe, Dracula as action adventure, then Dracula vs Frankenstein”. I thought “it’s over”, meaning America as the land of opportunity for creatives, and I might as well deal with the government applications and so forth that goes into making movies in a smaller market.

    • Brainiac138

      That smaller market is still in the United States, too. While the Los Angeles film system is shrinking, only churning out branded, 2 hour advertisements that rake in hundreds of millions (if they’re lucky), filmmaking is stronger than ever. It is just not in Los Angeles anymore. It is in Portland, Austin, Brooklyn, and even in places like Columbia, South Carolina and Detroit, Michigan. The best thing someone can do right now is just get a camera and start shooting what they’ve written.

  • cbatower

    An unknown writer’s script — yeah, you probably ought not try to break in with a weepy indie. Scripts like “Skeleton Twins” can be well-written, but they can’t be groundbreaking in that virtually every time the scripts devolve into indie cliche. Really, he’s suicidal and gay? Where did you get that idea? Other than every other indie dramedy.

    As far as indie cliche goes, I would like to say the logline for Reese Witherspoon’s new movie is stomach-churning.

    “A chronicle of one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent catastrophe.”

    Everyone knows it’s “Into the Wild” with a female protagonist. And the worst part — the most insulting part — they name the damn movie “Wild.” Not only do they steal the plot of “Into the Wild,” they just shorten the title. And the cherry on top: critics are totally going for that blatant Oscar Bait.

    (And I disagree about Shawshank.)

    • Brainiac138

      A true story stole the plot of another true story?

      • cbatower

        If your story serves the same purpose and theme as a previous one (examining the notion of entering the wild to find yourself), what’s the point of telling it other than the Oscars?

        If you personally had been on a jury of 12 angry men and thought “hey, this would make a good movie” then you realized that 12 Angry Men is already a movie, you’d look really bad writing a movie with the same theme called “12 Men.”

        I’m sure there are cops out there today trying to find the dude who killed their partner – but God forbid I see that story on film again.

  • mike

    Carson’s got a point thought. It’s not like in the past anymore, the landscape has changed, most non-movie scripts end up on Video On Demand. Just look at terrific, well made, engaging thrillers like Two Faces of January and Predestination, heck, even Snowpiercer. Carson’s right, there little that distinguishes these little movies from these little movies from what you are getting on TV, which is far more cinematic and superior but on a smaller scale. It’s not audience’s fault either, Studios seem to dump interesting, edgy, albeit talky fairs on video on demand instead of giving a chance or proper theatrical release. You think films like Shawshank Redemption and Good Will Hunting, or even American Beauty these days will even get a slight chance of getting theatrical release? Heck no, Video On Demand is it. And sadly, before they make a splash on video on demand they end up on torrents online in HD quality rips. Carson’s right, if you want to make a splash nowadays you gotta give audiences what they can’t find easily, movies that stir the imagination. Movies like Matrix, T2, District 9, where a lot is happening and yet also character driven and exciting and amazing. Nowadays anybody with a half decent DSLR thinks he’s a filmmaker and will make a short here and there then make a feature thinking he’s the next Scorsese. But all they really make is people talking about shit that nobody care, because most of the shit they talk about is boring, has no stakes, and is easily solvable, white people, first world problems. So, Carson’s not far off, he’s right, especially considering the film climate these days. Studios only want to give what audiences want to see, which is why these generic, bland, fast-food comic book crapfest is ruling the box office cuz they deliver something audiences can’t make it themselves or find it on their television screens. Superheroes flying, copious amounts of CGI stuff happening, it’s all boring and repetitive but it’s fun for a while and better to spend your cash on than watching two people talk about some issues they could easily resolve. Personally, I’d rather have more movies like Matrix, District 9, edgy, R-rated, original fares than buttloads of comic book nonsense that is flooding the screens. I don’t like this way of screenwriting but that’s what the reality is out there. You can either write non-movie scripts and hope one day some producer with balls, like Megan Ellison, will take a chance or you can write a movie script and widen your chances.

    • filmklassik

      Oh my God. Talk about demoralizing. If motion pictures are to become ONLY the domain of aliens, robots, and spandex-wearing vigilantes then I am going to quit writing screenplays right now and take up refrigerator repair.

      But maybe you’re wrong…

      Keep in mind that GONE GIRL did get made and, more importantly, it also made money. A lot of money. And it’s basically a talking head thriller.

      • Casper Chris

        Keep in mind that GONE GIRL did get made and, more importantly, it also made money. A lot of money. And it’s basically a talking head thriller.

        A talking head thriller based on a massively popular book.

        • filmklassik

          Very true. However, in most cases, movies based on best selling novels have to expand their audience greatly in order to be successful. If you are depending solely on a loyal readership to make money, your movie is going to tank.

          But yeah, I agree with you. GONE GIRL began life as a huge best seller — which didn’t harm its chances at eventually being green lit for production.

  • jw

    Carson, sometimes you worry me! We talk about this ALL THE TIME here, including yesterday. And, I think there’s a point here that in this increasingly digital world we live in, the “big screen” is no longer really the “only screen.” Maybe even more important than that, the silver screen has become increasingly more like the “big screen” in that special effects, risky storylines and Jerry Bruckheimer’s wet dream can be spread across The Blacklist landscape. No longer is there confinement of simply only access to a studio set. Or, at least in this regard, you can have Homeland “recreating” Pakistan in the middle of South Africa. But, it’s at least “outside” the studio walls. The more this happens, the less “relevant” seeing something on the “big screen” actually becomes. Let’s be honest here, all of us could probably name at least 5 shows that we think have rocked our world in the last 6 months, while it would be difficult to name 5 films that have rocked our world in the last 2 years. So, maybe it isn’t so much about what a film “should” be on the big screen as much as it is the fact that the “silver screen” has caught up.

  • brenkilco

    Maybe, but in most of these scripts I read the action seems to come in two varieties. Either it’s clear and coherent in which case it tends to be rather dull or it’s breathless and impressionistic and straining for excitement in which case it’s hard to know what the fuck is going on. If your prose avoids these pitfalls, kudos.

  • Midnight Luck


    but I’ll be there opening day, waiting to be taken away, to be entranced, for my soul, and brain, and emotions to be opened up and allowed to run free, play, dance, laugh, and quite possibly, puke, but just a little bit, and then remember what it was like to be so young, care free, full of hope, catching my breath as my belief in the possibility of life burns, before my back was broke, before age creeps in and tells you the only important things are “safety” and “class” and “protection”, just remembering that feeling when watching Bill Murray in SCROOGED helped remind us all that IT’S fun to not always take yourself so seriously, that screwing up can be amazing, that the more rigid we get the older we get, the less FUN life becomes, the less open we are to the amazing things out there, the more likely we will end up being stuck in that Old Folks Home watching the life drain from everyone’s eyes, and feeling our souls get dried up and cracking like old hands buffered by cold wind and dry air.

    Money is good and all, can be a shit ton of fun, but isn’t all that necessary when life has become dull and callused, when we’re feeling the bum fun of gumming a rubbery “burger like substance” at the local drive thru window, and movies only come with action toys and downloadable sound blips to be played while watching your soul die in your – seems like real food – Taco Bell nachos, but is more likely plastic Monsato GMO chips and tomato substance wrapped in a thin mucus film cover of oil.

    …back to regular scheduled programming…

  • ff

    Man do I disagree with this!

  • LostAndConfused

    Does this mean you’re going to put up my script of a war between Dragons and Aliens up on the amateur offerings? lol

  • Fiona Fire

    I was ready to write a raging post about how this attitude is destroying film, but I can’t argue with it. Movies are all pandering to teenage boys. Even so called serious movies are mostly pandering to men with arrested development. I write romance and romantic comedies and the attitude I get (especially on sites like this) is that romance is fing stupid.

    Eh, it’s not my problem that studio execs are ignoring half their potential market. As far as I can tell, movies have no interest in appealing to women or even representing women as 3-dimensional human beings.

    This is why I’m switching to writing novels and writing for TV. I love film, went to film school, spent the four and a half years since I graduated writing half a dozen features. I even placed in Nicholls last year. But I can’t take it anymore.

    Carson may rag on Obvious Child, but the movie found a lot of its funding on Kick starter because it deals with topics other movies won’t touch. I’d gladly pay to see a movie that handles abortion in a way that isn’t totally ridiculous. Obviously, a lot of other women feel the same way.

    • susanrichards


      • Fiona Fire

        Kick on!
        I’m not sure if I can take it anymore though :(

    • rickhester

      It wasn’t until my girlfriend angrily pointed it out to me that I noticed just how overwhelming the bias is in Hollywood toward movies centered on male protagonists. It’s kind of stunning that this has been accepted for so long.

    • Bifferspice

      try “vera drake”. romance isn’t fing stupid. but 99% of romance films are. that’s what you’re up against. write a good romantic film and people will think differently, if you can convince them to read it. women are badly represented in films, but it’s an issue people within the industry are aware of. maybe not everyone, but it is at least being openly discussed, so now more than ever, there are people in a position to do something about it who would surely want a well-written script with interesting and charismatic female protagonists. seems a shame someone who thinks so passionately about it, and has had the background you’ve had, is heading in the other direction. it’s only going to change through people writing scripts that address the issue by being so excellent they can’t be ignored.

      • Fiona Fire

        That’s the thing. You can’t convince people to read romance. There aren’t the same opportunities. If my script gets in the hands of a male assistant, there’s a good chance he hates it the moment he sees it’s romance. I get the same response from everyone the second the words romance or romantic comedy pass through my lips: that won’t do well overseas.

        Take SS for example. There’s amateur weekend. Mostly we see thrillers, action, and super high concept comedy. If anything is in the romance vein, it’s almost always about a sensitive dude who is, for lack of a better term, a pathetic loser not worthy of being or having a love interest.

    • charliesb

      I don’t think you should be giving up on film just yet. A lot of what Carson is saying is true, but it depends on what you want from the industry. If you want to make big blockbuster movies that sell for millions, and be on the speed dial of every producer looking to make a killing at the theatre then writing to what Carson describes as a “movie” may be your way in.

      But that does not change the fact that hundreds of smaller, nuanced, layered, interesting some good some bad movies get made every year. Some that show up in a theatre near you, some that find their audience on TV or netflix/itunes/amazon or a small festival.

      If what’s been happening in television over the last few years has show us anything it’s that people are willing to invest in stories that fall outside the traditional “movie” scope, (or sometimes seem to in the beginning, but then go in a different direction).

      Also as an aside. The industry is dying for the rebirth of the romantic comedy, like DYING. Even the worst Nicolas Sparks movie brings people into the theatre. If you’ve got one I’m sure it can sell.

      • Fiona Fire

        Tell me about it! I saw a trailer for Duff last time I went to the movies. It looks terrible but I will be there opening day because OMG it’s a high school romantic comedy.

        • charliesb

          I really miss the good ones. Even the moderately good ones. Now it’s either all about teenage angst or PWOP fanfiction teenage angst masquerading as S&M adult fantasy.

          I’m convinced the romantic comedy is due for a revival, I wish I was funny and clever enough to write one.

  • leitskev

    Absolutely. Writing action is not the problem. But there are other ways that writing a “movie” script can result in a script that is less likely to impress readers. Not always, it depends on the story.

  • Nicholas J

    Mainstream comedies are always movies.


  • Nicholas J

    My theory that I just made up the other day and has no concrete evidence to back it up whatsoever is this: As screenwriters, our most important job is to write a script with opportunities.

    It just takes one important person to see your script, and think to themselves, “Now THAT would be fun to film!” You want them to look at your script and see a world of unique, creative, and fun opportunities to make a great film. Because at the end of the day, people who work in the film industry just want something fun to point the camera at. They want to enjoy their job like anyone else.

    Here are some things that are fun to film:

    -People fighting.
    -People fighting amidst a bunch of explosions.

    But also:

    -A great character.
    -Dramatic irony.

    It doesn’t matter if you have high-budget action sequences or small scale emotional drama. Either can be extremely fun to film, as long as the story is great.

    All this talk about what makes a “movie” is pointless. Guardians of the Galaxy is a movie, but so is Silver Linings Playbook. You know what they both have in common? The scripts provided fun opportunities for the director, producers, and actors to be creative and make a great film. And guess what – THOSE ARE THE PEOPLE THAT GET MOVIES MADE. (Apologies to all the gaffers out there.)

    Stop worrying if your script is a movie. Just make sure whatever you are writing would be fun to film, which, as we all should know, is this:

    A great story.

    • Kirk Diggler

      “Because at the end of the day, people who work in the film industry just want something fun to point the camera at.”

      But what if their call time is 6am?

      • Nicholas J

        They can deal with it or get a job in post-production.

    • filmklassik

      Yeah, there’s not much to disagree with here. Very well said.

      Just hope to hell it’s true.

  • carsonreeves1

    I thought the script was terrible. But it’s super difficult judging a writer-director script, since they’re holding so much back from the reader, cinematic touches they’re saving exclusively for the movie. And Inarritu is a pretty awesome director. So I’ll see it for sure. Hoping everything I didn’t “get” in the script, I “get” in the film.

    • BSBurton

      Lol. If you liked Skeleton Twins (which i think you did) you should like Birdman.

  • andyjaxfl

    OT: Anyone have Medieval by Alex Litvak and Mike Finch?

    • Linkthis83


      • andyjaxfl

        Much appreciated. I’ve been looking for this one for a while but I keep forgetting to ask someone for it. Thanks again!

  • ElectricDreamer

    OT: Huge Congrats to a recent AF Winner that has broken through!

    The author of AF fave, The Devil’s Hammer, has made his first mark in Hollywood.
    Craig has scored a major victory for all the SS faithful. Way to go, pal.

    • klmn

      Yes, Congrats Craig!

    • S_P_1

      Congrats Craig!

    • Craig Mack

      Wow, thanks a lot guys! I honestly think this assignment came from that [x] worth the read, so I owe a lot to everyone here. I appreciate all the feedback, both good and bad.


      • romer6

        Congrats, man! All the luck in the world. :)

      • carsonreeves1

        You deserve it, Craig. :)

      • ThomasBrownen

        Congrats Craig! Can’t wait to see more from you!

      • Midnight Luck

        Very big Congrats to you Craig.
        We all have a reason to rejoice when one of us finds success.
        Good job, and best wishes.

        • BSBurton

          You said it! Hope all is well Midnight

          • Midnight Luck

            Thanks for the thought Burton. Appreciate it.

      • walker

        Congrats and good luck going forward, Craig.

      • BSBurton

        Have a blast, you deserve it! Glad I choose today to check in on the comments :)

      • Poe_Serling

        What a quick jump from “Now I can say ‘they did well at an international
        fest’ to I’m writing the sequel to Contracted for IFC Midnight.”

        Hope your opportunity leads to even bigger leap up the Hollywood ladder sometime soon!

      • Nick Morris

        That’s awesome! Congrats, brother. Take no prisoners!

      • BigDeskPictures


      • Bifferspice

        Well done, man. Great news!

      • Pooh Bear


    • BSBurton

      Great post! VERY happy to hear this.

  • Midnight Luck

    I think it all comes down to something way more SIMPLISTIC.

    Why do we go to the movies?
    Why do we see a play?
    Listen to music?
    (I won’t say why do we watch TV? as the biggest reason is out of Boredom, and laziness)

    We want to FEEL something.
    And that can mean ANYTHING.

    We want to be transported somewhere. We want to laugh, cry, be excited, feel a sense of redemption, empowerment, or just plain THRILL.

    A SCRIPT is a MOVIE if it does any of this. If YOU read it and it makes you FEEL something, then it is successful in what it does.

    Too many scripts, Amateur and Professional alike, fail in this regard.
    They go for superficiality over deepness. They focus on flash and grandeur over building character and a believable story (the story needs to be based in a universal truth, BEFORE we as a viewer can suspend our disbelief).

    Artificiality is the death knell for a well told story. Truth is the solid rock foundation to build your empire upon. Artificial is the slippery sand you don’t want to build a skyscraper on.

    This is why Guardians of the Galaxy and Dark Knight Rises Again and Again both FAIL when it comes to a solid MOVIE based on a solid SCRIPT.

    • Nicholas J

      Guardians of the Galaxy failed? That movie made like a billion dollars, a high majority of critics and audiences loved it, and it launched an entire new franchise. It accomplished every single thing it set out to do in spades. But you didn’t like it so it failed?

      • klmn

        I thought it was a fun movie. Stupid fun, but that’s okay once in awhile.

        • Eric

          Yeah, what are you gonna do? Complain that the movie with the talking raccoon wasn’t deep enough? I was shocked to hear anything good about it at all

      • Malibo Jackk

        But did it make a trillion?

        • Nicholas J

          It still might.

      • Midnight Luck

        it failed in regards to what I was saying:
        that from a “make me feel something” foundation, it, well, I guess it made me feel sick, and bored, so it did make me feel something (not as sick as John Wick, but whatever), yet that is not what you want someone going to your movie to feel.

        I am not saying it didn’t succeed when it comes to the monetary end, but that is a whole ‘nother discussion, one where I and every living soul on the planet seem to disagree.

        I think tripe like Guardians being so successful tells a future much like IDIOCRACY, where the dumbing down of civilization is become oh-so-amazingly apparent.

        I know that most on here are only talking about a “successful” movie meaning it made serious bank, but to me, that has very little to do with how successful the Script, Story, or Film (tough time calling it that) actually are.

        And sorry, it wasn’t “fun” for me. I wanted to go running, screaming from the theater and bathe myself in WHIPLASH water to get the stink off. Or at least hire NIGHTCRAWLER to get medieval on Guardians’ ass.

        • Nicholas J

          I said money and critical acclaim. And just because you didn’t feel anything, that doesn’t mean everyone didn’t. It’s a popcorn flick. We’ve always had ‘em. It’s not trying to be much more. What’s wrong with that? I didn’t love it, but it wasn’t half bad. I was entertained, and that’s all I asked from it.

          • Midnight Luck

            I’m not talking right or wrong.
            I’m talking about what it is people are actually looking for when it comes to a movie. (I personally found it less than half GOOD)
            I think it is just a tiny step from here to nowhere when what most people seem to want from a movie nowadays is ESCAPISM. They want to go to something that is sure to NOT require them to think.
            So you get GUARDIANS, and it does Bofo Bank. It requires no imagination, no logic, nothing at all, even from the script. Just throw some shit up on the screen and people will clammer for more and they’ll like it.
            I demand more. And like I said, this is where I seem to differ from just about everyone. I demand that even the “popcorn flicks” TRY HARDER. That they work to create interesting, inventive stories, that they don’t shoot for the lowest common denominator and call it good when they hit 4 levels lower, because, “who cares? the viewers don’t give a crap”. And that is where these movies are falling anymore.
            I think all movies should reach higher and give it their all to find a way to tap into people’s need to feel something.
            From where the cineplex landscape seems to be now, it looks like that doesn’t matter. No one WILL try harder, because the public is perfectly fine with mindless junk.
            I am not saying there can’t be GOOD escapist films. Good spandex movies, good action / scifi film. We just aren’t there right now.
            There is no Alien / Aliens anymore. No T2 or Blade Runner.
            If you looked at Blade Runner and Guardians side to side, is there any way someone would say they are even REMOTELY in the same caliber? I think not. One is dead, empty calories.
            So, again, what the public considers acceptable, and what they decide to go running to in droves, gives the sense we are quickly headed to the land of IDIOCRACY.

    • S_P_1

      I have to see GotG before I group it with TDKR. When Ledger died so did that trilogy. I have no idea how they plan to film around Walkers death in F&F.

    • BSBurton

      DKR is DOA lol. What was Nolan thinking???

  • Tom

    Carson has a good point at the heart of this article: “Are you writing a MOVIE?” But I think it gets lost among his studio-idolatry and indie-bashing. But those are his tastes, and no one should be surprised by that. Also – let’s be honest – agents, producers, and studios are looking for things they can easily, and confidently, SELL. That means: clever but simple log lines; fun set pieces; escapist locations and situations; and plenty of “trailer lines” and “trailer moments.” Again, this shouldn’t be a surprise.

    But if you remove his need to see GSU in every concept, Carson touches on an important question that every writer should ask themselves before starting on an idea.

    A friend of mine was an assistant for one of Hollywood’s biggest producers. She gave him one question to ask whenever he cracked open a script – “Is this a MOVIE, or is it something less?”

    (I’m not looking for an argument about the quality of features vs TV. Those are just her words.)

    That question is at the heart of what Carson’s talking about. Awhile ago, there was an amateur script on this site set in a post-apocalyptic future world where a guy confronts the robot who killed his dad. Now, all the elements in that log line seem to scream “movie!” but yet when I read it, I couldn’t help but think, “This would be a fine stage play.”

    There was something about the stillness of that script, the lack of locations, the conversational approach… it felt more like a play than a movie.

    There have been comedy scripts that have made me chuckle, and yet I couldn’t help but think, “This would be a fine episode of South Park.”

    There have been romcoms and dramas that have pulled me in, but ultimately made me think, “This would be a fine TV movie.”

    Some scripts feel like short stories. Some feel like novels. Some feel like experimental student films. Some feel like a companion piece to a intro to philosophy seminar. Some feel like an interesting newspaper article.

    Even among the well-written scripts, it’s difficult to find a MOVIE.

    If I were Carson, I wouldn’t make the distinction between “movies” and “scripts” but between “movies” and “something less” (or “something else” if you want to be PC about it).

  • peisley

    Diablo Run sounds like a movie because it was one: Death Race 2000.

  • peisley

    My take is drama, scifi, action… whatever. They’re all movies. What the director might have been referring to, and I may very well be wrong, is that there has to be that extra something to blow it out of the park. It doesn’t matter whether it’s character driven or not. Frankly, I sometimes think it’s time to grow up, people. Movies aren’t any one thing, but they most certainly aren’t defined by one genre, least of all empty superhero stories and action pics. I love a great drama. Would love to see a great courtroom drama. And, in my opinion, they’d be movies as much as any big blockbuster. Go see The Imitation Game. It’s a finely crafted movie, maybe not perfect. Yes, they try to open it up with some pertinent visuals, but that’s what any filmmaker has to do. The fact they have do open it up doesn’t mean the story is any less, it just needs to serve the story.

    • Midnight Luck

      Did you see THE JUDGE?
      I enjoyed it.

      • peisley

        No. I’ll have to wait for video.

        • Midnight Luck

          Just wondered what you might have thought of it since you specifically said you would “love to see a great courtroom drama.”

          • peisley

            I heard mixed things about it, but that wouldn’t stop me from watching it. I guess the setup didn’t interest me as much since it appeared to be more about their relationship than a big legal dispute. On your recommendation, I’ll give it a shot for sure.

  • rickhester

    I think a great illustration of the debate below is the difference in theatrical success between THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and FORREST GUMP. One movie, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, promised an emotional journey in the life of a wrongly accused prison inmate. FORREST GUMP offered to take us on a sweeping journey through time and history as Forrest tries to find his place in the world.

    So while FORREST GUMP’s grand scale drew mass audience into theaters, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION drew mass audiences to their couches.

  • BSBurton

    Great article, I’m listening to the Interstellar soundtrack and it made this post extra awesome. I loved the film too and like that you’re pointing out that choosing a genre can confine and limit a story. Thanks G. – Byron

  • fragglewriter

    I saw the screening of the movie Black Sea tonight and let me tell you, I didn’t stick around for the Q&A with the director. Even though it was a movie (thriller) as Carson would say and included his favorite (contained), the plotting and structure was so predictable. I’ll admit that there were about a handful of items that were a big surprise, but I would have to give this movie a B- rating. The directing was horrendous.

    With the advancement of technology and movies heading to the internet, Redbox and cable, I would say just write an interesting movie. People will seek out anything that’s good.

    • BSBurton

      So it was a good experience overall? I hope the director doesn’t read this lol

      • fragglewriter

        It wasn’t until I watched that movie that I realized directing is a difficult skill to master. He was all willy-milky with the camera.

  • BSBurton

    Cloud Atlas = Awesome. Strike it from the list!!

  • BSBurton

    Regardless of your opinion on Carson’s article, it was certainly a conversation starter. I’m glad I dropped in on SS tonight (secretly neglecting my writing deadline). Back to work, see you lovely people in another day or month.

  • Midnight Luck

    Is this post important?
    From that guy we were talking about the other day (American Ultra) who wrote a script, or 70.

    open letter to screenwriters from Max Landis

    • scriptfeels

      The comments there are pretty nasty actually, i only know of Max because of scriptshadow actually so a lot of what he said was a surprise to me, but his view of the hollywood system made complete sense to me and was something that I’ve witnessed first hand, but wasn’t sure how its being viewed in industry.

      • klmn

        Yeah, you really can’t blame him for promoting himself.

        • Eddie Panta

          I love reading articles by millennium social networkers about how they wish things were the way they use to be, before they were born.

          You can’t have it both ways.

      • Midnight Luck

        Yes, I don’t know much about him either. I think I read an article about him once. It was one of the last printed issues of SCRIPT magazine. I think. Unless a magazine like Filmmaker or something did an article, but oddly, those magazines don’t usually have anything on Screenwriters, so I believe it was Script mag.
        Anyhow, I don’t really have much of a feeling for him one way or the other. Don’t really know enough to know anything to say about him.
        I only read 6 pages of ULTRA and he seems like a decent writer. The only thing to say about those pages are, seems odd he put both a SLAM TO: and a STARTLING SLAM within 5 pages. Both things that, of course, Amateurs are told never to Direct in any way like that, only use Cut To: and only when necessary. And don’t use Slam or some exaggerated version of Cut To unless ABSOLUTELY necessary, or with a specific purpose.
        I didn’t see the purpose in his use of them.
        But, really, it didn’t matter much to me. The use of those just seemed superfluous is all, and kind of without meaning.

        I know many people assume that any of his success’ came strictly because of who his father is, and I can understand that, and even feel some of it. But I am smart enough to know that is just a knee jerk thought, and don’t actually feel like that. I don’t have any idea who he is, what his life has been like, how anything has played out for him in life. And I won’t pretend that I do know, and therefore would never call judgment on him about things I have no knowledge of. I have no reason to.

        He is a screenwriter, and that makes him a fellow traveler in my eyes. I wish him well, as well as I can, without knowing him at all.

        I don’t know why everyone is so nasty toward him. I only read part of his comment (the link I posted above). Seems he needed to put something down about why he is the way he is, or who he actually is, so people can understand him better? maybe? So others won’t attack him? or have the wrong idea about him? Not sure.

        Regardless, just thought maybe some of the writers on here might want to see what he might have to say.

        Just more information is all. I kind of like to hoard info wherever I can, when it comes to screenwriters, and screenwriting (but mainly just screenwriting). I don’t generally keep tabs on Screenwriters overall.

        • susanrichards

          I think that maybe he used the SLAM and other director’s terms because he is directing now. Perhaps he is intending to direct this film as well?

    • Casper Chris

      Surprised this hasn’t gotten more attention here. I guess people prefer to ignore the harsh realities.

    • kenglo

      I liked the post…..made me sign up for REDDIT (I know….slooow)

      I had this same discussion with drifting the other day – why are we here? Where are we going? WTF do we do???? It’s daunting for a newbie is what I think he was trying to get across, aside from his aside(s) about himself of course!

      Nice post!

      • RyanKirkpatrick

        I remember he did a podcast on Nerdist a couple years back, seems like an interesting guy. Worth the listen alone for his take on a Bond flick and Peter Pan — dude can definitely pitch.

  • scriptfeels

    I wrote an entire argument about my point of view regarding this post, but decided against posting it. I think there’s rooms for all kinds of different movies for each type of film lover and that there should be distribution methods in place to sustain non-blockbuster type films.

    I also believe that we need better marketing for the films Carson doesn’t consider to be ‘movies’, but I’m not sure what the answer is for these types of films aside from certain target demographics or built in audiences.

  • susanrichards

    OT: why might a comment be pending and then deleted? And who decides?

  • charliesb

    Some interesting stuff coming out of the hack at Sony. Here’s a quote:

    There is a general “blah-ness” to the films we produce.Althought we manage to produce an innovative film once in awhile, Social Network, Moneyball, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, we continue to be saddled with the mundane, formulaic Adam Sandler films. Let’s raise the bar a little on the films we produce, and inspire employees that they are working on the next Social Network.

    Read more here.

    • Midnight Luck

      I *love* to hear this.
      Glad to see people on the inside also consider what they are making to be “blah” dreck.

      • charliesb

        I find it interesting that there are both sides. Some people who consider what they are making “trash” and others who only want Hunger Games and Twilight.

    • davejc

      In related Sony news, intelligent sources now have evidence that it was North Korea’s Kim Jong-un who was behind the elaborate hack of the entertainment industry giant.

  • carsonreeves1

    Well, in my defense, I was so confused by that part that I actually went back and read it two more times. I don’t know. That script just wasn’t written for folks like myself.

  • carsonreeves1

    I afford SOME degree of imagination, but I really put it on the writer to set the scene to use my imagination, which a lot of writers don’t do. For example, the writers of “When the Streetlights Go On” created some amazing atmosphere in their script which allowed me to imagine a “The Sweet Hereafter” like soundtrack.

  • Linkthis83

    I’ve always wanted Carson to add one more rating to his system:

    [ ] Wasn’t for me, worth the read

    On here, it ultimately comes down to having a script Carson appreciates + a story he likes. MARLOWE was an amateur script that was written much better than a lot of amateur scripts that come through here, but it was the story he didn’t get into, thus it gets the
    [x] wasn’t for me. Which I think writing a story well has more value than writing one people like. Plus, I’m always trying to help a writer out :) I also hold no grudges towards Carson for doing things the way he does. Not until it happens to me.

  • K.B. Houston

    Carson, you have the right premise, but not the proper execution.

    Yes, all too often these days people are writing scripts and not movies. But more than anything talent evaluators are looking for potential. Of course studios would like to purchase scripts that can immediately be made into lucrative films, but those are rare, they always have been rare and they always will be rare. The bottom line is that most amateur screenwriters are plucked from obscurity based on how well they can tell a story and how well they can write. That’s it. That’s what matters. Talent agencies are thusly coined “talent” agencies for a reason. They’re looking for talent. They’re looking for potential. They’re looking at the future!

    What amateur screenwriters must keep in mind is that if they want their project to be brought to fruition in the form of a film then they need to write something that CAN BE FILMED. In this sense, I’d almost have to disagree with you about writing so much action. Yes you want your film to move, you want things to happen, you need to tell your story visually — but telling your readers to create explosions and gunfire and car chases is erroneous and somewhat irresponsible. Because in reality those things are just as unfilmable as anything! If your script has lots of special effects then it has to be absolutely 100 percent flawless for a studio to not only purchase it but put millions and millions of dollars into producing it. On the flip side, if you write an original, contained comedy or drama with zero special effects studios are going to be much more inclined to take a chance on that knowing the risk of losing money isn’t nearly as high.

    Again, write only what can be filmed. That’s your job as a screenwriter. If you do that and tell a good story along the way, you’ll have absolutely nothing to worry about.

  • Montana Gillis

    GOOD ARTICLE!!! Again, this is why it’s called “Show Business” and not “Show Art”. And then there’s the third category that I tend to write, which is called “Show Shit”. Sigh.

  • august4

    This sounds exactly like a Brian Duffield script… 87 pages, “WTF” written on one entire page… Easy as hell to read? Check! An actual movie? Doubt it…